The Art Scene and Art Criticism in Romaniaby Adrian Guta
In comparison with the Communist era, the 25 years of regained freedom of expression in Romania have brought major changes to our art scene. There were phases of this process: the ’90s differ from what came after 2000. Throughout these phases, various evolutions have contributed to defining a remarkably complex visual culture.
The beginning of the post-Communist period witnessed the tension between a tendency to embrace new media and internationally-oriented art, and the revival of a neo-orthodox aesthetic, defined by traditionalist thinking and conservatism with a Christian spiritual core.
The Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Bucharest (S.C.C.A.) was one of the first spaces to appear in Romania after 1989, offering an alternative to the official venues. The polarity between public and private spaces diminished in the second half of the ’90s.
The so-called transition period in Romanian society lasted more than 15 years. Consumerism changed from a theoretical question into an aggressive reality. The debate around postmodernism, active in our cultural press mostly in the second half of the ’80s, was grounded primarily in literature but also in visual arts. Mainly comprising the so-called ’80s Generation of writers and artists—including its art critics—the conversation continued in the next decade, when the theoretical platform became more complex. Postmodernity came into view again later in the ’90s in a more localized context, as globalization occurred and its impact on Romanian society and culture started being debated. On the other hand, our art scene still included variants of modernism, albeit a tame version, assimilated and adapted to the local creative discourses.
Around the year 2000, Romanian pop culture evolved into a subject worth analyzing—isolated stylistic features of Pop Art had appeared in the ’70s, when some ideological relaxation and signs of prosperity had appeared in Socialist Romania. The so-called 2000 Generation of writers and visual artists started to enter the cultural scene in the late ’90s. Neo-Pop, and post-Conceptual are, in my opinion, the main influences and parameters of the work of some important representatives of this younger generation of artists—and not only theirs, in recent years. Globalism, as a way of thinking and working, is a characteristic of much recent Romanian art. It’s interesting that in the period between the two world wars, the Romanian avant-garde preferred established Western formulations of the avant-garde, rather than “pure” ones.
Since the early ’90s, art critics began to assume other responsibilities in the new institutional order. For instance Calin Dan had long promoted the work of fellow artists of the ’80s generation, and in 1993 became the first director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Bucharest. Ileana Pintilie, an art critic from Timisoara, started the Zone international performance art festival in 1993.
Soon after 2000, private galleries became more of a beneficial presence. Many art critics—Maria Magdalena Crisan, Pavel Susara, and Diana Dochia, in particular—served as founders and directors, and often as the curators of exhibitions. Many of the active curators in the present art scene in Romania are art critics and art historians with an academic background in the art history and art theory, and a few in philology or philosophy. Curatorial studies has only recently been introduced into art curricula at universities. Some of the art critics who have curated important exhibitions in Bucharest, other Romanian cities, or internationally after 1990 include: Judit Angel, Horea Avram, Coriolan Babeti, Ruxandra Balaci, Magda Carneci, Irina Cios, Calin Dan, Liviana Dan, Ruxandra Garofeanu, Catalin Gheorghe, Adrian Guta, Dan Haulica, Erwin Kessler, Anca Mihulet, Mihnea Mircan, Oliv Mircea, Aurelia Mocanu, Cosmin Nasui, Mihai Oroveanu, Ileana Pintilie, Mihai Plamadeala, Magda Radu, Alina Serban, Oana Tanase, Alexandra Titu, Raluca Velisar, and Raluca Voinea.
The most important state institution for contemporary art is the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest (M.N.A.C.), which was inaugurated in 2004 with the opening of five exhibitions. M.N.A.C. promotes national contemporary art, new media and young artists in tune with current international trends. It is also part of a strategy to bring important Romanian artists from the diaspora of the ’60s and ’70s back to the public’s attention. International exhibitions are also organized, with internationally important artists. The latest exhibition was a show of Romanian and internationally recognized artist Mircea Cantor. For the past decade, the Romanian Cultural Institute has made an important contribution to promoting contemporary Romanian culture and visual arts abroad. The group has its headquarters in Bucharest, and is active in several countries.
The Romanian Fine Arts Union (U.A.P.) is the professional association of artists and art critics. It was founded in the early ’50s and is still active, but trying to reformulate its priorities according to the concerns of the present. Its president is painter Petru Lucaci. U.A.P. is the publisher of Arta magazine, whose editor-in-chief is critic Magda Carneci. It also administers a network of galleries in Bucharest and other cities, and some of its members work in U.A.P. studios.
Periodical international art events have appeared in Romania since the ’90s, others started in the following decade. I’ve already mentioned the Zone Festival, but another significant performance art festival that emerged in the ’90s was AnnART. Occurring in the Transylvania region, it was initiated by artist Baasz Imre and continued by artist Uto Gusztav. Periferic in Iassy, run by conceptual artist and activist Matei Bejenaru, was founded as a performance festival and has since turned into a contemporary art biennial. There are two international biennials in Bucharest, both started not long after 2000: one is the Young Artists Biennial, organized by artist and curator Romelo Pervolovici and 2META Foundation, and the other is the Bucharest Biennial, initiated by art theorist and curator Razvan Ion.
Regarding contemporary art, our art market is still rather modest, but it continues to grow, stimulated by private galleries and a few auction houses. The Romanian art scene includes a large variety of conceptual, stylistic, linguistic, and technical options that range from figurative and abstract approaches to painting and sculpture, to installation, photography, video, digital art, performance, and street art. Post-Conceptual art is also an important trend, mostly among younger artists, but it has also influenced the work of older artists. A number of Romanian artists live and work abroad, but they continue to exhibit in Romania, including Christian Paraschiv, Dan Mihaltianu, Peter Jacobi, Ana and Nicolae Golici, and Daniel Knorr.
Romanian artists are obtaining more and more international visibility, often showing in biennial and other exhibitions: some are represented by well-known galleries. One of the most spectacular evolutions from this point of view, is that of some younger artists initially identified with the School of Cluj, although not necessarily in a pedagogical sense: Victor Man, Adrian Ghenie, and Serban Savu being perhaps the most prominent. Besides this group, equally appreciated around the world are artists Ion Grigorescu, Dan Perjovschi, Mircea Cantor, Ciprian Muresan, and the subREAL group (Calin Dan and Iosif Kiraly). An increasing attention is focused on the work of Geta Bratescu, Nicolae Onucsan, and Vlad Nanca.
During the Communist period, the only art magazine which was published in our country was Arta. It appeared without interruptions from 1953 to 1993; it was briefly revived in 2000 and stopped again in 2001, with the present incarnation re-launched in 2010. Most of the art critics who have had a career in Romanian art journalism for the last 50 years made their careers writing for Arta. A lot of the contributors to the magazine were already mentioned above, in connection with their roles as curators. Some final members of the Romanian art world: Ioana Vlasiu, Anca Oroveanu, Ruxandra Demetrescu, Ramona Novicov, Adriana Oprea, Diana Marincu, Daria Ghiu, Vladimir Bulat, Simona Nastac, Igor Mocanu, and Magda Predescu. Many of the art critics included in this text are also members of AICA Romania. There are also artists who are also active as critics.
There are some other art magazines which are part of our landscape of periodicals initiated in the last two decades, although not all of them have stood the test of time: Idea: arts+society (Cluj) is focused on art theory; Artelier (Bucharest) appeared only for a few years; Intermedia (Arad), a dynamic publication focused on multimedia work. I must emphasize the presence of philosophers and writers who publish studies and essays on contemporary art and theory in various cultural magazines.
A comprehensive overview of the Romanian art phenomenon since the end of the Second World War has yet to be sufficiently realized. Beginning in the year 2000, writing which has attempted to deal with this issue has focused on larger or smaller chronological areas, or frames its analysis in light of a specific theme. Current authors of note are Magda Carneci, Ileana Pintilie, Alexandra Titu, Adrian Guta, and Erwin Kessler. Before them, these issues were addressed in a book written by Dan Grigorescu, which appeared in 1991.
Adrian Guta (born 1956), Ph.D., is an art critic, art historian, and curator, living in Bucharest. He is an associate professor at the National University of Arts, Bucharest, Dean of the Faculty of Art History and Art Theory. He is also president of AICA Romania. He published two books on the 80s Generation in the Romanian visual arts, in 2001 and 2008. In 1997 he was a co-curator of the Romanian participation at the Venice Biennale. He has contributed, since 1980, to various art and culture magazines in Romania and abroad and was editor-in-chief of Arta magazine, Bucharest, 2000 - 01.